Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Kingston: Canada's Original Capital

This past weekend, I went to Kingston to visit my friend and army recruit, Ryan. He assured me that I would love the city, and guess what? I did.

The only disappointment I had was the weather - but then again, all of Eastern Canada had a cold spell. Stupid lack of jacket.


I took the train from Montreal to Kingston mid-day on Friday - from one former Canadian capital to another. It was scenic, sunny, and flat. Like the Prairies. And there was hay and cows and I am always amazed at that kind of scenery... especially when it's so close to home and not on the other side of the country.

When I arrived in Kingston, I really had no idea where I was. Honestly. Even when I took the train back to Montreal on Monday, I had no clue where the taxi was taking me. My image of Kingston is really just two parts of the base, downtown and the waterfront. Though that's not all I saw.

The cab driver I got on my way in was a lot of fun to talk to. A former member of the Armed Forces, he was a vehicle mechanic. He told me about being stationed in South Africa for a peacekeeping mission and the racial tension that existed there. He mentioned how he left the Forces because they wanted to transfer him to Shilo, Manitoba... as his daughter was entering Grade 12 in Kingston. He would have had to leave his family behind, and that was not a pleasant thought. So he left at the end of his contract. Turns out that about a year later, the Army started offering early pensions in order to reduce the size of the Forces. Bad timing, tough luck.

It's these kind of stories that make us wonder what kind of live we'll lead in the future. No matter our training, education, and employment history, we could all be cab drivers someday. Not that there's anything wrong with that. I have a lot of respect for the good ones - those who drive you around, talk if you want to but give you space if you need it, and are happy to do the job. But lets be honest - it's not really anyone's first choice of employment.

This guy gave me a recommendation for a small restaurant called Copper Penny, which he said is his favourite place to dine. Why? You can dress any way you want, and go with any company, any night of the week, and have a great time. Oh, and the food options are varied.

So on Friday night, Ryan and I decided to test his theory. I'd spent the afternoon reading on his perfectly made bed in B7, and all that work made me really hungry! Sure enough, we had a grand time. We also explored Princess street a bit, but it was freezing so I was happy to get back to my temporary home - B58 in the McNaughton Barracks.

Saturday consisted of more downtown exploration. We'd asked the cab driver for a good fish and chips place on Friday night and he recommended The Pilot House so we headed there first to actually, you know, find it. When we were confident that we could find our way back - aka, locate City Hall and the Market Square - we wandered off, waiting for the place to open and air the hockey game(s). Up and down Princess Street we went, hopping into random shops... and Kingston's got a lot of those!! Lots of cool, retro spots and some quirky niche ones too...

Once again, it was freezing so we took advantage of everyone else's heating. Ryan bought a jacket at the S&R Department store - lucky him!

The Pilot's House was actually a fish and chips place, primordially. The menu featured a variety of different options, from tilapia to cod to halibut and sole, which is what I ordered. Ryan was a bit of a loser and ordered the same thing... instead of choosing a different fish and sharing! Silly Ryan! We also both got a pint of Strongbow (mmmmmm... Thanks, Kali, for introducing me to this beer alternative!) and shared an apple crumble for dessert. How quaint!

I couldn't catch most of the NYR vs. TB commentary but the game itself was really not that bad... The whole time, I was trying to figure out whether CBC had a truck there or not - a technical glitch answered my question: it was the MSG feed. Hence me not recognizing the reporter. Also couldn't hear much of the intermission segments but I did like the apparent on-screen chemistry during Coast-to-Coast... though the desk looks a wee bit too small for three people. In true geeky fashion, I was once again amazed by Kelly's use of the Telestrator and yes, I could hear the audio fades in and out of segments, and that made me giggle.

We then continued our touristy day by taking the Historical Trolley Tour of Kingston. We went all around town, seeing Fort Henry, Martello towers, Kingston's many penitentiaries, its large collection of park sculptures, and Queen's University. The tour also featured about a gazillion of Sir John A. Macdonald's former homes, as the first Prime Minister of Canada was a citizen of the town. I'd definitely recommend the tour to anyone visiting Kingston... It's a great way to get to see a bit of everything without investing too much into it.

It also proved to me that Kingston is a runner's town. It feels like just about anyone who lives in Kingston goes for runs, and at all hours of the day. Maybe it's the beautiful scenery or the fact that Princess Street, aka the main street through the downtown core, has benches scattered every few feet for seemingly no other reason than to stop and stretch.

After a bit more wandering through the Market Square and Confederation Park (where Ryan stretches when he runs), Ryan and I headed back to base to change for a night on the town - er... lake, I mean. We got two tickets for the 1000 Islands Sunset Dinner Cruise and made it to the ship just in the nick of time - literally. We were the last two passengers to board, and didn't get our picture taken. Not that we would have bought it, really, but it's always funny to laugh at later. Instead, we took our own pictures - successfully, I might add, though only having charged the camera battery for oh, 10 minutes.

The cruise itself was lots of fun. We sat next to two conventionners from Calgary, which brought on conversations about the weather. And members of the Quebec Association for the Blind were also on board. The tour guide had a smooth silky voice - very charming in his explanation of which islands made good real estate investments - and he also ensured the rest of the entertainment for the night, singing classics and favourites while accompanying himself on the guitar, and eventually, getting people to dance along. The food was also way better than I expected, given that it's a ship and all. And the sunset was beautiful.

We called it an early night after we hit land around 9pm, especially since our Sunday was full.

Originally, we'd planned to meet up with Ryan's roommate and hook up their Internet - but instead, we relaxed, went to one of the many Timmy's in Kingston for breakfast (mmmm... Pumpkin Spice doughnut), and headed back to B7. The plan at this point was to visit the Communications Museum which was located accross the street. After sorting through some computer issues, we finally made it outside - but not inside the museum. Since it's closed. On weekends. Despite this latest setback, we were still ready to make the most of (what was left of) our day, and headed back downtown.

We stepped into the Tea Store for the second time this weekend, and after exploring all the different scents and options - this place is worse than Lush. Honestly. - I settled on having a cup of Minty Sunrise. It was the most peaceful yet refreshing smelling herbal tea - and since I don't drink "regular" tea except for green teas, I was thrilled. It was hot. Served in a glass cup too, which probably wasn't a good idea. Despite me wanting to warm up, I'd much rather be able to hold my cup without burning my hand. Either way, the tea was stunningly perfect. Exactly what I was looking for in my, oh, probably 15 minutes of sniffing. Needless to say, I brought some home with me. Also noteworthy, the warm scone was to die for. Next time I'm in Kingston or in Ottawa, I'm definitely taking advantage of their free Wi-Fi offer too!

The teas were still too hot 10 minutes later, so we took them to go... to the movies, next door. We saw Burn After Reading, which was utterly confusing but totally hilarious. Just... don't really expect it all to make sense. It is a parody of sorts, after all, and not a storyline that you can just escape into. Still, it was insane in a good way, and I'd recommend it if you're looking for something out of the ordinary.

We settled on sushi and a movie for the night - yes, another one. But got the sushi to go from TA-KE. Delicious, really, and a varied selection. Some sushi combos that I hadn't seen before, like salmon, apple, pumpkin, avocado and more in a maki roll. Delicious. But we bought way too much, and army guys aren't really keen on late night sushi, it seems, so some of it went to waste.

While we were waiting for our order, we went into the most amazing shop. Ever. It's called Minotaur and is basically a games shop. It's everything Capitaine Quebec should be but isn't. It has board games and D&D dice, novelty items, cards, figurines... Everything a gamer and geek could want but items anybody and everybody can enjoy. It was in this store that I spotted my first ever GRUPS game, though I'd heard loads about it from Wil Wheaton. I also spotted Munchkin, and almost bought one of the many versions on the spot - save for the fact that I'd have no one to play with. Which made Ryan and I muse about both buying the game and playing long-distance, at the same time, through Skype. A virtual games night, in a way. Which sounds like an awesome idea - except for the lack of in-person interaction and the possibilities of cheating on dice rolls... Minotaur also had a whole lot of cool pirate gear, and other items that made me think of Christmas gifts.

After picking up our massive order of sushi, Ryan and I retreated to his bunk so that he could multitask and do laundry. We watched Labyrinth, which is another crazy-insane-hilarious-but-in-a-good-way movie. It was my first time seeing it though having heard a lot about it, and I wasn't dissapointed!

And that's about it for my trip. I took the train home on Monday morning, happy but maybe a little sick from all the cold nights - doubling up on the sweaters didn't quite work as planned. Silly lack of jacket.

On the train ride home, contemplating the multicoloured trees, I realized how happy these little trips make me. It's nice to escape from "real" life and shed your responsibilities for a weekend every now and then. And though these trips are fun to daydream about, it's important to actually go through with it. Minimizing the costs, like staying in army-sponsored accomodations for $30 a night, also helps ;)

The point is that I won't always be able to do this. I'm lucky to make a decent amount of income right now with relatively few expenses so that I can afford little escapades like these. But soon enough, I'll have a full time job that will perhaps require me to work overtime and/or weekends. Maybe I'll have a family to take care of, and kids with activities I wouldn't want them to miss. Or any kind of responsibility I just can't temporarily abandon. Now is really the only time I can do this without facing too many consequences. And it makes me realize how important it will be to make the time to take a weekend off now and then, to find myself, centre myself and be happy still and again.

I figure a good rule is to escape once a month, but that's probably too optimistic. If, once I've settled into responsibilities and commitments, I can take one weekend off every two months, I'm sure I'll feel thankful for the break, relaxed and rejuvenated when I come back. Taking time for yourself is not a crime by any means, and I think it's time that I realize that. I now accept that it's a need that must be fulfilled, and if a weekend in a world different from my own is what it takes, then that's what it shall be.

Ya know, if I can pull myself away from work and all.


  1. The intangibles in life are some of the experiences that hold the greatest meaning in our lives as time goes by. Travel is a perfect example of this.